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In his rich, intricate, and wise examination of themes from the Crito, A. D. Woozley explores Socrates' proposal, put in the mouth of the personified laws of Athens, that the duty of a citizen is to obey a law or to persuade society that the law is wrong. If this position is understood to permit disobedience and attempted persuasion after a law is adopted, one of its implications is that on some occasions when people intentionally break the law, those who administer the law may properly decline to impose the stipulated punishment, because they believe that disobedience was justified. Suggesting that the problem of disobedience raised by Socrates' "persuade-or-obey doctrine" concerns the individual's choice of action less than the system's response, Professor Woozley analyzes some of the delicate questions about criteria that officials might use to decide which lawbreakers should be excused from punishment. These questions were left undiscussed by Socrates and have received much less attention in the past two decades than has the moral justifiability of individual acts of lawbreaking. This article attempts to carry forward that effort.

The subject of this article is somewhat broader in conception than Professor Woozley's problem, because I wish to include instances in which the lawbreaker's claim that he acted justifiably does not fit the persuade-or-obey model: instances in which the actor asserts, for example, that the values of the law were simply outweighed in his situation by more compelling considerations or that he acted upon strong moral conviction without hope or expectation of persuading others to that conviction. My topic embraces all those situations in which an actor might honestly say, "I intentionally committed an act that is ordinarily a violation of law and knew that I was doing so at the time, but nonetheless what I did was morally justified or within my moral rights." I inquire how officials involved in the system of legal punishment in the United States should respond to such claims. Much of the analysis takes as given existing laws, institutional structures, and present assumptions about the scope of particular roles, but I also ask what kinds of basic changes might lead to more appropriate responses to moral claims to disobey.


Law | Law and Philosophy


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